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#ThankYouChildCare: Recognizing the Dedication and Value of Child Care Providers

May 8, 2023

“Buenos dias,” says M, the family day care provider that my daughter has been going to for a year and a half. My two-year-old quickly walks past her and into the living room, where a tub of blocks is within my view. She barely says goodbye to me, but I don’t take offense. Rather, I’m grateful that my child feels so secure and comfortable that she doesn’t cry when Mommy leaves. She’s always happy to see me when I pick her up, but I know during the time spent away from me she plays and explores in a safe, nurturing, learning environment.

This is not babysitting; this is professional work. In addition to meeting all the basic needs of a healthy toddler (nutritious meals and snacks, diaper care, nap times), my provider also attends to her developmental needs. They read and sing to learn new words and support my daughter’s early literacy. M helps her master new skills that build her fine motor development, her ability to handle her emotions and work well with other children and adults—all through thoughtfully designed exploration and play.

By now many of us may have heard that extensive research has shown the importance of early childhood to the development of a healthy brain, especially the first five years. As Tierney and Nelson note, “The foundations of sensory and perceptual systems that are critical to language, social behavior, and emotion are formed in the early years and are strongly influenced by experiences during this time. This is not to say that later development cannot affect these behaviors—on the contrary, experiences later in life are also very important to the function of the brain. However, experiences in the early years of childhood affect the development of brain architecture in a way that later experiences do not.”

However, today in the U.S., we’re experiencing what feels like an unprecedented crisis in early childhood care and education. Issues of low compensation and workforce turnover and shortages existed for many years, but COVID has amplified these issues. A study of career pathways for the U.S. Department of Labor, led by Abt, found that most early care and education occupations offer lower-than-average starting wages. In 2021, the median pay for childcare workers was $27,490, 40 percent less than the median wage for all workers which was $45,760. (Source: Childcare Workers: Occupational Outlook Handbook: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (

Discussions about fixing the childcare workforce pipeline focus on the need to increase compensation, to reduce turnover, to ensure families have access to care so that parents can fill the rest of the workforce. Compensating providers well to ensure people take on the work is important. But what these stories about compensation often miss is that these providers should be well compensated because they are taking care of our vulnerable and precious babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. The work providers do requires specialized knowledge and skill, is physically demanding, and is often emotionally demanding. When we talk about increasing the pool of providers, let’s not discuss it simply as an economics supply and demand equation. Well-compensated providers provide true value: support for families who need it and most importantly, our children who thrive when they have consistent relationships with people who partner with parents to set the strong foundation for success in school and in life.

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